Change is difficult for most people and can be even more so for individuals who rely on a carefully crafted set of services. When a child will be moving from one level or system of care to another, families are often fearful of service gaps and setbacks. The more you understand essentials for navigating transitions, the more in control you will feel, and the more confident you can be that the transition will go well.
How do I plan for transitions?
The word “transition” is often used in the human services to refer to the general process of someone moving, or being moved, from one set of services to another. In common English, a “transition” is a movement, passage, or change from one position, state, stage, subject, concept, etc., to another. The word comes from a Latin word “transire,” which means to go across, and often refers to the process, not the end result. Thus, “transitioning” is the act of making a change, of going from one set of characteristics or circumstances to another. It may not be instantaneous; more often, a series of steps or phases will be involved.
In the context of this website, the Multiple Systems Navigator, “transition” can refer to going from child-serving program(s) to adult-serving program(s), school to work, group residence to independent living, juvenile justice to adult correctional system, guardianship to emancipation, and other scenarios in which responsibilities change hands.
Keep in mind that transition to life as an adult can occur gradually or abruptly. However, in most cases, advance planning leads to better outcomes. Formal transition planning is required by law in regard to foster care, juvenile justice, special education, and other program placements.
- Early and Continuous Planning: Well in advance, take time to anticipate the many practical elements of a future transition. Work to identify “who, what, when” for every aspect of the change. Write it down. Revisit and revise the plans as time passes.
- Knowledgeable and Trustworthy Advisors: Find and work with people who know what they are talking about. Friends and family are important and helpful to talk to but don’t stop there. Seek out professionals who understand the technicalities of service systems and can tell you about more options that your personal network doesn’t know about.
- Clear Goals: Think through and decide what you want or need to accomplish in both the short term and the long term. Check off and celebrate your milestones as you achieve them so you can build on your progress.
- Self-advocacy: Take personal responsibility for what happens to you. Whenever possible and to the best of your ability, speak for yourself.
- Follow Through: Don’t put off or forget to do what you need to do to make things happen. Do what needs to be done promptly. Work through each challenge that comes along until it is resolved. Don’t give up!
- Make a "Transition Roadmap" Teenagers in foster care will use a transition planning form that is available and required in anticipation of the time the adolescent will age out of that system. Similar guided transition planning tools exist in other service areas. Using transition planning tools will help develop individual goals and objectives well ahead of the scheduled transition period.
- Solicit Help from Others Many people have been through the same transitions you or your loved one is facing. Talking with people that are familiar with the systems and processes involved in transition will make your journey through transition smoother. Don't be afraid to reach out to others.
- Visit New Program, School or Home Whenever possible, take advantage of orientation programs or ask for a tour or visit. This will help put both you and your child at ease when making transitions. If possible get a map for your child to explore. The more information you have in advance will help ease some of the stress associated with transitioning.
- Social Anxieties Social fears are common for individuals facing transitions. Encourage your child to join teams, clubs or extracurricular activities.
Advanced Planning is critical for successful transitions. Start transition planning early!
- Parents and caregivers can help coordinate service systems and ensure their child remains integral to the planning process.
- Family support and peer advocates can help connect you with the right people and organizations for your transition. They are very knowledgeable in the area of transition. Use their expertise.
- Case workers will be an essential resource for transition planning. In fact, your case worker is required by law to initiate and shepherd the process of transition planning for and with each youth assigned to them.
- School counselors and coaches can often be the informal sounding board needed to explore education, work, and life goals and options through two-way trusting open communication.
- Mentors guide less experienced people by building trust and modeling positive behaviors. One of the contexts where mentors can be very helpful is in the workplace, especially when starting a new job.